Democratic pluralism a must for Israel as the gap widens

The major overall challenge we face today is that of returning to the ideals of a democratic pluralistic Jewish state that found their expression in the noble words of Israel's Declaration of Independence.

What its authors envisaged was a state in which all citizens would enjoy equality of status and of rights, irrespective of race, religion or sex.

Unfortunately, this idyllic condition has never been attained. On the contrary, it seems to be even further from reality, as economic and social gaps widen, hostility between different ethnic groups increases and new fissures appear, for example, between "native" Israelis and foreign workers, Jewish citizens and non-Jewish immigrants, the haves and the have-nots.

The need to educate all Israeli citizens and residents in the basic principles of democracy and pluralism, in the Jewish tradition of "Love your neighbor as yourself," is paramount. The challenge is to find appropriate means of inculcating these principles.

Development of formal and informal frameworks, as well as development of a cadre of leaders who will, both by precept and example, help to put good intentions into effect — these are vital to our future.

Given the current dismal state of our economy, another challenge is how to restore the ideal of Avodah Ivrit, Jewish labor, which used to be the pride of the yishuv, Israel's pre-state society.

That means structural change in the economy — decent wages and working conditions for all, development of public projects that will provide employment (as the WPA did in the United States in the 1930s), good vocational training and re-training — and a greater degree of social justice in determining the salary levels of senior executives in the public sector and government employees.

Economic prosperity will not be restored until we make significant cuts in expenditures on military equipment, on settlements across the Green Line and on the construction of the bypass roads and tunnels that serve the settler population and increasingly deface what is left of Israel's "green and pleasant land.''

In other words, the peace process must be jump-started again, based on a readiness to make major sacrifices.

And apropos the land: We have to relate urgently and seriously to the increased pollution of our soil, our water and our air.

There is much to do. The time is short. We have to band together to ensure that the next 55 years see progress, rather than continued regression.

We need honest, dedicated, selfless leadership — and we need far more women in positions of decision-making and the determination of policy. We need an end to male domination based on military prowess.

As for the Jewishness of the Jewish state: We need equal status and rights for all streams of Judaism and an increase in Jewish education even for those who are not religiously observant.

Those are the challenges. Now to work!